The number of female Nigerians, many of them minors, often naive about their fate at the hands of traffickers, arrived by sea in Italy surged over the past three years from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,000 in 2016.
The organisation’s spokesman, Flavio Di Giacomo, said at a news briefing in Geneva that some 4,000 Nigerian girls had arrived so far in 2017.
The UN agency had said that based on data collected at landing sites, it was estimated that 80 per cent of the girls were “potential victims” of trafficking as sex workers.
According to Giacomo, the girls are often told the trip is free.
“These girls, who are increasingly younger every year, are brought to Italy and to Europe for sexual exploitation.
“They are taken by traffickers and then they are forced to be prostitutes in the streets in Italy.
“And sometimes, as far as we know, these girls are also sent to other European countries such as Spain, Germany, France, and Austria.
“Many of the Nigerian girls are from poor families in Edo, who are psychologically manipulated during a voodoo ritual before leaving,’’ Di Giacomo said.
According to him, they are accompanied by a madam-linked to the traffickers on the long journey through Niger and Libya.
“The increasing number of minors arriving really do not have any idea even what prostitution is, what sex is.
“But, many of them understand the real purpose of this journey because many times they are forced to prostitute themselves in Niger, in Libya especially, in brothels there.
“So they understand they are not going to work as hairdressers.
“IOM officials try to intercept the Nigerian girls at landing points and inform them about the prostitution ring and their right to protection,’’ Di Giacomo said.
He said that the agency which had helped those who decided to flee the networks reported the cases of 425 girls in 2016 to police.
“A few days ago, we had the story of this young girl, a 17-year-old girl.
“She has been told she was going to work at a hair salon; she didn’t have any idea she was going to be forced to prostitute herself.
“It was only when she arrived she found out that it was not real.
“The job was a lie and she was forced to become a prostitute, which was the only way to pay off the debt of the journey.
“She was forced to be out on the streets for 12 hours a day.’’